Our annual pilgrimage to the Outer Banks is coming up soon. The Ohio family will pack up and start driving towards the end of this month, heading for a sliver of barrier islands on the East Coast known as the Outer Banks. Wayne and I have been preparing for several months. Snagging paper products, paper plates, paper towels, toilet paper, bottled water, sunscreen, packing a first aid kit, finding the beach towels, making a grocery list–actually retrieving one that is on my computer, the list is endless.
This will be our 9th consecutive year spending a summer week in a beach house on Hatteras Island with most of the immediate family. Chris has joined the rest of the merry band only once, but he is no doubt with us in spirit. Nikki and her family, Mike and his family and this year Marrisa’s college roommate will converge on the house in Salvo to start the annual tradition. The younger grandchildren have never known a summer that we did not spend hanging out at the beach, taking the ferry to Ocracoke for the day, and since 2007 spending hours in the pool. That was the year my son and son-in-law decided we had to have a house with a private pool. So, they pony up the additional funds for the pool. My theory was if you are at the beach that is enough water, but I have to admit I do like having the pool. Ella learned to swim two summers ago at the beach house.
We had to sit out a hurricane in 2004. They were not able to evacuate us since there is only one highway, Highway 12 on the island and they did not have enough notice to order an evacuation. When we went to bed it was supposed to be a tropical storm, but when we woke up it was a category 2 hurricane, Hurricane Alex gave us quite a pounding. I have never seen water rise so fast and so high. Water came through the walls of the house at times and all of the screens were ripped off. Fortunately the builder had put the house up a bit on a rise, our cars got wet floor mats, but our neighbors’ cars were floating down the street, bobbing along. I got a real feeling of how narrow this island is and how powerful the Atlantic is during that storm.
When we went to Buxton the next day to our usual seafood shop, the owner, a good old island man said to me ” They thought it was going to be a tropical storm, but it won’t like that! It was a darned hurricane, that’s what it was!” I was puzzled at first by the “it won’t like that” until I realized he meant “it wasn’t like that.” I love the down east speech. From time to time my family and I work phrases like ” it won’t like that” and ” she is low sick” into our conversations and remember the island folks fondly. They remember us because for some odd reason not a lot of people of color go to the OBX, preferring Myrtle Beach and Virginia Beach, not sure why.We visited the Outer Banks first in 1986 when Nags Head was a fishing village with one hotel and a bunch of three room, primitive cabins. If we had bought property on the island then we would be very rich indeed today.
Wayne, Marrisa and I, and this year , Natalie, will go down the first day, a Sunday. This is a tradition, we always get a day alone at the beach. The rest of the family arrives the next day. We will check in at the real estate office, get the key and head for the grocery store. When we first started going we had to schelp all of our groceries in or pay exorbitant prices at little local markets. A few years back, however, they built a Food Lion in the village of Avon on the island. My Ohio family may be the only folks in southwest Ohio with food lion customer cards. Almost all of the clerks at the Food Lion in Avon are from Russia or eastern Europe. Many of them have poor language skills and none of them have a grasp of customer service American style. Because they tend to be very attractive young women and I have done some work with my friend Donna about sexual trafficking I sometimes wonder if there needs to be some intervention or at least scrutiny of this practice. But I digress.
We will go to Food Lion ( having bought bottled water and paper products before we get there when they were on sale in Cary) and load up on groceries for the week. That first tab usually runs about $200, but it is only the first of many trips to the store. We always forget something, mustard, toothpaste, something or we get a taste for something we did not remember to buy. The first meal is tradition as well, coney dogs island style!
After we drag all the groceries up the stairs, and there are many, to the main level–the beach house has a reverse floor plan with the living room and kitchen and dining area and one bathroom on the second floor, bedrooms and bathrooms and laundry room on the first floor–and put it all away, it is time to relax and enjoy the pool until dinner time. We also walk to the beach, usually about a five minute walk, but with the OBX you always have to climb over a dune, so we can see the ocean and take some pictures.
The next day, Monday, the Ohio nomads start to arrive, amidst hugs and greetings and screeches of welcome. The kids are always excited and ready for the beach and/or pool. The rest of the week flies by in a blur, broken only by a Wednesday outing to Ocracoke Island, accessible only by a forty minute ferry ride. We used to eat lunch in town on Ocracoke, but last year packed a picnic lunch and spent our Ocracoke time on the beach, which has been rated as the number 2 beach in America–behind one in Hawaii only.
The evening are spent playing games. Gin rummy, Quelf, Scattergories and Monopoly, for bragging rights for the year if you are the winner. There is also a basketball hoop that gets use and sometimes Mike bring his cornhole game. After all the games, and the little folks are tucked safely in bed there are adult beverages on the deck, maybe a plunge in the hot tub.
Jane, the fittest of us all, gets up in the mornings and runs on the beach. Some of us have sworn we will join her–walk on the beach that is, but that rarely materializes. I am usually the first one up, shortly joined by Wayne and the rest of the band filters up the stairs, usually when they smell the bacon and coffee.
I do love our beach adventures–last year we caught a jellyfish and named him Smuckers. I actually thought he was dead when I plucked him out of the surf, I just wanted to show him to the grandkids, but then he began to pulse in the bucket and I knew he was still with us. After letting everyone see it we returned him to the ocean and his life.
The Outer Banks is a magical, ethereal, temporary place. The ocean will surely reclaim these barrier islands eventually. I am just glad they are still there so we can use them as a backdrop for family memories that will last as long as we do. It makes me realize what a fortunate group we are, that we are all healthy enough and wealthy enough to do this each summer. May we continue to be both for a long while to come.
See you at the beach! 🙂